Looking for Help with Specific Chorophobia - Partner Dancing

First and foremost, I'm new here, so go easy on me!!

I have diagnosed myself with a specific form of chorophobia, and it's caused me to do some interesting things over the years...

I'll begin by saying I'm not rhythmically challenged. I was in marching band in high school, play in many musical groups (mostly jazz/swing), and was ranked the top jazz trombonist in my area as a senior. I have also played other instruments, including percussion.

On my own, without a partner, I'm a competent dancer. I'm a bit heavy-legged and am not the most graceful human being in the world (I grew up playing baseball), but I can move with the rhythm and do it whenever/wherever.

However, I have a serious problem here. I go completely stiff and into panic mode if asked to dance with a partner to the point where I feel myself getting ill.

Here are some of my fears:
--I am still not sure what to do to join hands and whatnot with a partner. Which hand goes where?

--I know as a guy I'm supposed to lead, but I don't really get what that means.

--I actually failed at the middle school sway thing and got my butt handed to me in terms of lectures from others.

As a result, I skipped prom. I didn't even make an effort to ask anyone to it because I was too nervous about the prospect of making someone's night miserable and something they'd remember for all the wrong reasons. I went to a baseball game instead. I lucked out most of college, but in my senior year, my then girlfriend asked me to the ball. (Note who did the asking here). I had an absolute fit getting ready for that thing trying to gain some semblance of what I had to do. I had to repeat everything to myself a million times and probably still forgot. Thankfully, we liked each other and we were off to ourselves. Funny thing is we broke up three weeks later...

Now I have the problem of weddings. I usually can luck out of things by being the DJ, being the live entertainer, or by just not coming with a partner. (Seriously, if it's something like doing the "Bye Bye Bye" dance from NSync, I'm totally down for it and tend to school the younger people on it). However, I dread the day when my own wedding comes. I'll be so caught up in the whole thing and stressed regardless...

My questions are as follows:

1. I know what chorophobia is, but is there any specific term for what I have in case I want to run this by a psychologist? (I minored in psych--but focused on child development and evolutionary psych--and have a few friends in the field who probably know more about fears).

2. Just where does one put their left and right hands in a typical ballroom-type dance? Which hand holds hers, where does the other one go? High back, mid back, shoulder, waist?

3. Is it bad that nobody in my family ever taught me this stuff as a kid? My uncle is the only one who dances routinely in the family and he lives six states away.

4. What are the odds I can talk someone out of a traditional first dance and do something coordinated instead where we don't really have to touch each other?

5. How can I get over this fear? I know the obvious answer is to dance, but what about the fear of being called out and yelled at in public?

FYI: I'm 30, male, calculus teacher, and am in good physical shape. I currently am not in a committed relationship with anyone.


Well-Known Member
Take lessons. ;-) Private lessons. Which are expensive. Use the Groupon deal at every studio within striking distance, explain your issue succinctly when you call for an appointment, and see if any studios match you with somebody you feel you can work with. If so, and if you decide to pursue this, yes, working with a therapist at the same time would help.


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I believe that most men starting out have some fears of dancing, but usually the fear is not of the dancing itself but rather fear of ridicule by others or fear of stepping on their partner.

In my lay understanding of what a phobia is, I wouldn't consider the fears men commonly experience as a phobia. I believe a phobia causes a physical reaction, such as paralysis. The natural fears can be overcome with a proper introduction including competent instruction. If you truly have a phobia, you need competent psychological help.

But before seeking a psychological help, I suggest finding out exactly at what point the fear takes over so your session can be more effective. A series of tests, with the help of a female friend if available. Or try to find an independent female instructor you will give you 45 minutes to an hour of her time for less than $100 (don't sign any contracts).

Some tests:
(1) Can you walk up and shake hands?
(2) Can you get a bit closer, each of you are in a practice dance hold with your hands cupping her elbows and her hands at your elbows with your forearms in parallel?
(3) Without touching, how close can you stand to her? When you do this exercise, stand in an offset position where she is slightly to your right, you can look forward past her right ear without turning your head and your left leg would swing past her right leg. Stand erect, don't lean over either forward or back.
(4) If close enough to do this, lift your arms to your sides and somewhat forward. Reach with your right hand under her left arm and place the palm of your right hand on her shoulder blade. Hold your right forearm vertical and slightly forward, allow her to place her hand between your thumb and index finger. This is approximately a ballroom hold, did you achieve this?
(5) If in ballroom hold, can you shift your weight slowly and deliberately from foot to foot?

If you passed all of these tests without a panic attack, then in my lay opinion you don't have a phobia. But you need competent instruction to take that first step although you've actually started dancing when you moved your weight from foot to foot.
The cost of the private lessons is indeed one of the prohibitive factors there, as well as the fact I've been ridiculed for my lack of dance knowledge before. Perhaps the fact this was in middle school, a vulnerable time to begin with, is behind this. (I should know, I teach teenagers for a living and know a bad math experience leads to them hating/becoming afraid of math).

Let me see about those questions:

1. Yes.
2. No. I start freaking out because I can never remember what the proper dance hold is. Where do my hands go here? See my original post.
3. I'll admit I need more personal space than most, but some of that may be personal/cultural background.
4. Wait a sec..there are two right hands here? Should one be the left?
5. I know I can shift weight fine when not in a ballroom hold; I do this with some of my gym exercises, so that should not be a problem.

It's not knowing anything about holds that I feel is the problem after more analysis. I need actual illustrated diagrams. Not videos, but diagrams with step by step instructions on something like this.

I think it also freaks me out that almost every girl I have dated seems born with the partner dance deal inside her. How does this even happen? Also, most of my GUY friends seem born with it as well. It's strange...it's like I missed something big in life. (Of course, they can't rattle off applied calculus formulae at will...but then again, which one is really the more useful skill at the end of the day? As much as I hate to say it, more people probably benefit from something like dancing...)


Well-Known Member
From your second comment, I'm less inclined to think that you have a full blown phobia and are simply at the beginning of the "beginner's hell" that most men go through. You might have more of a challenge than most people, that doesn't mean that you can't do it, just that you'll have to try harder. I've been there myself.

I doubt that diagrams will be of any help, often times we can look at a picture or video and think that's what we're doing when we're actually doing something else. We're not always self aware of where all our body parts are. Possibly you could learn in a group class and looking at yourself in the studio mirrors, but I think you probably need one-on-one instruction. You say you can't afford it, but you probably have _some_ discretionary funds -- where you spend them is by your own priorities. Save up for a private lesson, tell the teacher where you're at. If they insist on signing you up for a package or program, keep looking for another teacher.


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I think it also freaks me out that almost every girl I have dated seems born with the partner dance deal inside her. How does this even happen?
It doesn't. Seriously. We all had to learn too - and some of us learned as adults, despite horrible, scarring childhood exposure experiences, and became quite good. You can do it too, if you want to - but you are going to need to want to, and be willing to work at it.

I'd strongly suggest finding the $$ to work one-on-one with an understanding instructor. Their job is to teach you how to dance, so no worries about the fact that they already know how, and that you don't... that's understood when you show up. And the focus will be all on your learning.

They will start from the absolute beginning - where you put your hand, what foot you step with, what is this 'weight transfer' thing you hear people talking about, what steps go with what music. They will explain them simply, in different ways if needed, until you understand. If they aren't willing to explain these basic concepts to you when you've been clear that you are an absolute beginner, it is not your fault. Move on to another instructor who will start from the beginning.

What dance instructors are not: psychologists or counsellors. They'll be patient and understanding with you, but they aren't equipped or expected to help you work on your issues. Anxiety, etc. should be tackled elsewhere.

After some private lessons, the instructor will likely suggest you try a group class or social dance (a structured form of party, where the main activity is partner dancing). These are good opportunities to test your new skills in a more controlled (and supportive) environment than a wedding or club. Most people at a social or class have some idea what they are doing, but all of them were new once, so they tend to be encouraging and patient.

(Note: some people start directly with group classes, as it's a less expensive way to learn. Given the issues you've relayed, I don't think it's the best approach for you.)
So left goes to her hand I'm guessing if the right one goes on her scapula?

Yes, I'm in "beginner's hell" at an OLD age...30, almost 31.

Snapdancer, you did nail it with the discretionary funds...most of them go toward the sailboat...but since you mentioned private teachers, where would one find a good teacher? All I'm really aware of is the Arthur Murray type places around here (that old song was a pretty good jingle for them).

I think I would want to practice in a one on one setting away from the judgmental people found at most of these dances. I did photography for my friends at a social swing dance and there were tons of judge-y people there. I heard quotes such as "you don't want to dance with her, she has no idea what she's doing" or "you really need to work on those moves" or "you have no business being on the dance floor".

I'm also admittedly uncomfortable with physical contact if it's someone I don't know. Trust has to be built with me.


Active Member
Take a deep breath and tell yourself that there's nothing wrong with you. It's perfectly fine that you don't know the first thing about partner dancing - dancing is a skill that can be learned, and not knowing how is not a moral failing on your part.

Go take a class - Swing, Salsa, Tango, Blues, Ballroom, whatever sounds appealing. You should be able to find a class for beginners, and you'll learn everything you need to know. If you can teach calculus, you can learn to dance. You're overthinking this. Go take a class, keep your expectations low (it can take years to get good, so don't expect that to happen in a few weeks) and have fun!
You're overthinking this.
The life of someone who teaches math for a living, summed up right there.

Which of those above classes is most applicable to social situations such as weddings? I'm going to wager ballroom, but I'm not sure. To me, it all looks the same right now.

Also, speaking of holds from earlier, I saw a wedding photo on Facebook today and the guy had his arm around the woman's waist...is this an alternative to the shoulder thing? This is seriously what scares me the most...they seriously need bullseyes on dresses for where those hands should go.

What is the estimated cost of these private lessons and where does one find competent teachers who can deal with lack of ability and fear? As mentioned earlier, all I really know is that we have an Arthur Murray about 15 minutes from me.
I suggest starting with swing or latin (cha cha or rumba) because of the open hold. You can dance an entire song from just a one-hand hold.

I don't know if it helps to hear this, but when I was 30 I was afraid to dance with partners and avoided any embrace. I gradually overcame that and I had completely forgotten that era until I read your post.

You could try a group class, but if the social situation of a group class is overwhelming, it is ok to change plans and find a private lesson teacher. Prices vary. The atmosphere of studios varies. Find one where you feel comfortable (or least uncomfortable.)

I have heard that the chain studios are a great fit for some people who are shy of a more open atmosphere, that those studios specialize in sheltering new clients. This may sound negative, but for some people it is a positive thing if they thrive in a more isolated environment. From the outside looking in, that may appear the studio knows how to prey on insecurity. But I know former chain students who appreciate the start they got there. It is possible that could work for you. Economically, it is not that they are affordable, it is that they sell so well that you would change your financial priorities. ;)

Whichever path you take I hope you learn to love partner dancing. Give it time. Be patient with yourself. It is completely normal to be frustrated and scared as a beginner. You will be rewarded with a lifetime of fun once you make it past that stage.


Well-Known Member
As far as the wedding photo you mentioned -- my guess is that it was of the wedding couple doing their choreographed dance. That usually is not real dancing, they've learned it well enough to perform it one time on their special day after which they will forget it. Since they're dancing a choreographed dance and getting married, they can get away with a hold that (1) won't work for true leading & following and (2) might get the guy's face slapped if he tries it with someone he doesn't know very well.

I started dancing when I was older than you are. Typically the younger you are the faster you will learn. Best to start working your way up the learning curve now.

As far as type of dancing for social situations like weddings, ballroom might be best since it covers a variety. There are specialized dance scenes around single dances like salsa, west coast swing, lindy hop, argentine tango etc, but they tend to be limited to those scenes. Of course if that scene is your social life then it may not matter so much. I myself ballroom dance though I started out with west coast swing, and I can competently dancing the one or two salsas played at ballroom social parties.

As far as alternatives to chain studios you could
(1) Google "ballroom dancing (insert name of city)"
(2) Ask on this forum for recommendations in your city.
(3) You could PM me, I could look over the Google results and maybe make a suggestion but it still be my best guess unless you happen to be in the same city as me.


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(1) My left hand holds her right hand. Depending on the dance we are doing, we either hold our arms in an 'L' shape with the forearms up, or the forearms go more outwards.
(2) My right hand goes around her back under her arm. The heel of my hand is kind of on her ribcage, with my palm and fingers wrapping around and (lightly) on her back. For most dances, her left hand goes on top of my upper arm just down from the shoulder, and her left arm rests lightly on my right arm.
(3) The arm positions are designed to keep us in an "offset", with each of us having our right shoulder across from our partner's sternum. This is critical, because we need this offset to be able to step in between each other's legs. This is what prevents you from stepping on your partner.

This is a simplification, but it will do you for now.

I have a lot more thoughts on the larger questions you pose, but no time to write now... more tomorrow. Short story, I've been where you are, and I learned some things, #1 of which is: A lot of people who try to give you unsolicited advice about dance don't know what the hell they are talking about.


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Short story, I've been where you are, and I learned some things, #1 of which is: A lot of people who try to give you unsolicited advice about dance don't know what the hell they are talking about.
Except for the people on this forum. Most of them are great ;)

Seriously, @chorophobic101 , I was terrified and clueless when I showed up for my first class, as an adult well out of school and having done nothing active in years. Clueless as in my first question to the instructor was "what hand do I give you?". And I walked out of my first ballet class a few years ago going "what the F did I get myself into? I'm terrible." I now dance ballroom at a pretty high level, can comfortably social dance to nearly everything, and am en pointe in ballet. You might just amaze yourself... and even if you don't, so what? You tried something new, likely learned something about yourself along the way, and put yourself out of your comfort zone. That's how we grow.

I will say that over the years, I have learned that it is a lot easier to learn when I don't let the anxiety take hold. Find a situation that makes you feel as safe as possible (whatever that means for you), take a deep breath, and try. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, and no one is expecting you to be perfect before, during or immediately after your first lesson... or for quite some time (like, a decade +). If you genuinely want to learn, you will.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
You skipped prom?
It was never in the cards that I would go to the prom.

Dancing in the family?
What is that? Wait. maybe my mother and her sisters danced together?

There is a certain amount of mirroring, or moving together, or at least making similar movements, when you dance apart, if you and your parnter are into each other.

I think you should think of a kind of music you like, or a dance style that you like, and find a beginner group class to take. Yes, it's hard to go to that first class, no matter how many first classes you've taken; but you gotta do it if you really want to get over this fear.
Wow, more great responses!!

OK--as far as music...here's the deal. I like jazz, but I hate the idea of swing dancing because that stupid rock step thing confuses the daylights out of me, plus the counting is all different. I also got removed from a lesson I went to with friends once because the teacher said I wasn't "fit to dance" at the actual dance that followed. (As a teacher myself, I'm not sure how he could call himself a teacher, punting on a student after 20 minutes).

I don't like modern pop (there are a few songs I'll tolerate at the gym). I do like older stuff...60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. It's not so much the beat, but the fact all the artists sound the same to me now and have for about a decade!

I think my ideal learning environment would be one-on-one, only myself and a teacher, and if anyone were to come in outside of that, it would have to be a friend. It's not like the gym where I can mess up an exercise and nobody cares because nobody is directly working with me--plus, gyms seem more encouraging than dances since the common goal there is to improve, not to show off (well, for most people, there's always that one person) or to try to impress the opposite sex.

The one good thing here is that one of my college friends apparently teaches dance now. I'm not sure what she charges or anything, but I do know she minored in dance in school (her major/profession is nursing). I guess that would be a good place to start...


Well-Known Member
Good chance that your issues with the swing are how your weight is placed, perhaps it's too far back on the rock and then you lose time for the triple that follows, confounding what is yet another concept.

As far as your college friend, she might nor might not be able to help depending on what area of dance she majored in. If her training was in ballet, there are certain movements that don't work well in partner dancing.
I found her website and she teaches west coast swing. What exactly is the difference between west and east and which is less painful...I mean easier...to learn?

She does dance ballet but also does both private and group lessons in west coast swing. She also has a partner in the business so it may be a two-on-one deal, not sure offhand. I'll have to shoot her an email tomorrow (plus it's been forever so it will be nice just to catch up).

If it helps in terms of the rock step and weight, I played baseball for nine years. I was an infielder and know how to weight shift there, so could it be that I'm falling into old baseball habits because of muscle memory? Just a thought...after all, my dancer friends were scooping up dates and I was scooping up ground balls...

The funny thing is...I'm actually a good athlete and am in great physical shape...I pick up on sport-type stuff very rapidly (I picked up on tennis in a day!) but this dance stuff....


Active Member
I found her website and she teaches west coast swing. What exactly is the difference between west and east and which is less painful...I mean easier...to learn?
While both are descended from Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing is a greatly simplified version of LH, so it's way easier to learn. From your statements, you also won't like the music for West Coast, since that is danced mostly to current pop, with an occasional R&B or Blues song thrown in. If you want to dance to swing jazz without rock steps, I could also suggest Balboa, but that's a much smaller community.

As for rock steps, you're almost certain making them WAY too large (about 99% of beginners I see do so). Starting with your feet even with each other, the left foot slides back about eight inches to leave your left toes next to your right heel. You're probably also leaving your weight on the left foot too long. It should be just the briefest instant of weighting, like you'd use if you're crossing a stream using rocks sticking up out of the water and one of them is known to be wobbly.... (But you do need to put your weight on the left foot -- if you just tap it, your partner can't tell that you're rock-stepping.) Combining those two rookie mistakes could easily make you a full beat late finishing the rock step.


Well-Known Member
I agree with ralf, but have this to add regarding music for West Coast and music for dancing in general. If you limit yourself to dancing only to music you like to listen to, you will cut yourself out of many options. Probably not many people dancing to the music played on your favorite Sirius XM channel.

I've been dancing West Coast for 3 decades now. Over that time the music played as West Coast swing events has changed. But so has the population that dances it. A younger generation (the Westies) has adopted the dance and they have different preferences in music. West Coast swing is versatile in that it can be done to a wide range of 4/4 tempo. If the younger generation didn't pick it up, West Coast swing would die.

There's a local Westie scene I drop into occasionally. They play contemporary music. I enjoy dancing to it, but when I've driving to and from the event I listen to something else. The music I dance to doesn't have to be the same music I listen to.

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